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Lord Carey’s vision for the Church might kill it off

A N WilsonBy A N Wilson, Telegraph

I go to a well-attended church in London, but I have made frequent travels throughout England in the past year (literary festivals, television work, visiting friends). On Sunday mornings, I have gone to church. When staying with friends near Canterbury, I have enjoyed splendid liturgy, intelligent sermons and been part of a huge congregation.

So what do I make of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying that the Church is only one generation from extinction, its clergy gripped by a “feeling of defeat” and its congregations worn down with “heaviness”? Is he just suffering from peevish-old-man syndrome?

Alas, Lord Carey is right. Come away from Canterbury with me into the parishes I have visited – in the West Country, in East Anglia, in the Midlands and the North. I have attended at least 10 churches in the past year – all very different in their history, but in each case I have had the same experience. At the age of 63, I have been the youngest person present by 20 years. The congregation has seldom numbered double figures. The C of E is a moribund institution kept going by and for old people. They are ministered to (perhaps I was just unlucky) by an ill-educated clergy with nil public-speaking ability.

Lord Carey, as an evangelical, thinks that the cure for all this is to reach out to young people with such initiatives as the Alpha Course (a basic grounding in the faith, which began at Holy Trinity Brompton). He wants the sort of services that such Christians consider “vibrant”.

Evangelicals like him have had some success, mainly in suburban parishes, where congregations can be numbered in their hundreds. But these places, which appear to buck the trend, are in catchment areas of tens of thousands of people, none of whom would go near such an evangelical Church, with its outreach, Toddlers’ Praise and speaking in tongues.

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